As a general rule, the author or creator of an original creative expression is the owner of the copyright that subsists in the work. Sometimes the ownership is not as clear. Artistic work created under a contract may transfer ownership from the author to the other party to the contract.

An art or literary competition is an example where copyright may be assigned to the competition organiser under certain terms. This article looks at some of the copyright issues arising in competitions and what competition organisers and participants need to know.

Terms and Conditions

Competitions generally have a set of terms and conditions for participating or entering the competition. Participants need to read the terms and conditions carefully before entering their work into the competition.

The competition terms and conditions should address how the competition will be run, and what will happen to all entries including the winning entries. The organiser needs to make sure that if they need particular rights to be able to use, display or publish the entries, that the terms and conditions grant them those rights.

Terms and conditions need to balanced so as not to be so onerous that they might discourage participants from entering their work, but also so that the competition can run as intended.

Artists should be aware of entering into a competition that assigns the copyright to the competition organiser, even if the artwork does not win. If the conditions of entry only assign the copyright of winning entries, creators should still consider whether the prize would outweigh any possible royalties that could come from retaining ownership of the copyright.

Alternatively, the terms could ask that the creator licence copyright to the organiser which allows the original author to retain ownership, but also gives the organiser the right to use the artistic work for the appropriate purpose. Participants should consider their copyright ownership when agreeing to terms and conditions in light of any assignment, exclusive licence, or licence possibly granted to the organiser.


If the terms and conditions do not assign ownership of the copyright, then generally the creator owns the copyright, and will continue to do so after submitting the work.

Competitions usually require the participant to confirm that they own the copyright or that the work they are submitting is their own original work. This may also involve the entrant agreeing to compensate the organiser if it found that the entrant does not own the copyright and the organiser incurs a loss as a result.


Liability and indemnity clauses in terms and conditions are critical. As previously stated, entrants are usually asked to provide a warranty that the work is their own and that they own the copyright. Terms and conditions should also address what happens if a participant is found to be in breach of this warranty i.e. their entry will be disqualified.

An organiser also needs to be aware of what it can do without infringing the copyright of an entrant’s work. Displaying the artistic work may be okay, but reproducing or republishing it may be considered infringement.

Key Takeaways

It is standard practice that a creator who enters their artistic work into a competition retains ownership of the copyright unless specified in the competition terms and conditions. Organisers should make clear terms and conditions for artists entering the competition and also ensure that the organiser is protected from liability. Creators should think long term and weigh the benefits of the competition against the value of their work and potential royalties associated with it. Questions? Get in touch.

Dhanu Eliezer
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